Aba sent us around the neighborhood to cut down sabra, using a knife taped to the handle of a broomstick. We severed the fruit heads, rolled them a few times on the grass to get rid of their thorns, and dropped them intoa bucket. Tamar sat on Eran’s shoulders, her small dancer’s body leaning forward to reach the cactus with the bucket. I handled the broomstick, severing the purplish-orange prickly pearfrom the body of the cactus.When we were done, Tamar took the fruit to her mom, so she could make it into jam.Once it was ready, we stored it in the bomb shelter, along with the rest of the emergency supplies. The shelter was in the basement of our building, and we shared it with three other families. Tamar arranged the supplies carefully, as if she were handling explosives. Jars of blueberry and raspberry jam, white bread, dark bread, apples, peaches, and tin cans stacked one on top of the other filled the corner of the room. She wore a turquoise skirt and matching top. Eran grabbed Tamar’s hips from behind, making her jump.
The story of the Immovable Ladder is this: it was left on a balcony of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem by a careless mason in 1750 and has sat there ever since. The six orders of monks, in whose ruthless stewardship the church is kept, have divided the church into blocks of turf, which they guard with fervor, and sometimes with fists. It’s unclear to which sect the balcony (and by extension, the ladder) belongs. Any attempt to answer that question would be a threat to the delicate status quo that keeps the monkish violence at bay. And so the ladder sits. Undisturbed.
It’s a mess down here, a goddamn mess. Such a mess that Israelis have a special word for it, balagan, a word invalidated unless accompanied by frantically gesticulating hands and a scornful glance as if to say I know it’s a mess, I’m smart enough to know that and that makes me better than the mess.
The Second Battle
The women were weirdly dressed: short, revealing, feminine dresses over naval uniform trousers. An attractive French woman was topless, her lower half crammed into a pair of tight military trousers, while some of the soldiers living it up down in the belly of the ship were wearing women’s silk negligees, once bright white but now so heavily stained with vomit, urine, and semen that they were closer to dark grey. On board the Josephine—over the many days of her voyage so far—a professional, serious, and accurate reenactment of some of Sodom and Gomorrah’s wildest days had been performed. Thus the Josephine rocked heavily on the surface of the sea, her cargo consisting of dozens of woozy French women and dozens of French soldiers who were “guarding them,” while the port of Saint Jean d’Acre blinked on the distant horizon.